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The Effortless Courage Of Being Shilo Shiv Suleman

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If you follow contemporary Indian artists, the one name that comes up frequently in conversations is Shilo Shiv Suleman. What sets Suleman apart from the rest is that she is just as intrigued and guided by magical realism as she is by technology. For her, the old and the present go hand in hand. Suleman is in the 21st century as they come, but there is also a feeling that she would be equally at home in Vedic times.

The 31-year-old artist is also the founder and director of the Fearless Collective which hosts more than 400 Indian artists who use the power of art to protest one of the most serious issues facing the planet today, violence. gender.

Getting your hands on Suleman isn’t easy. Even in the midst of the national lockdown she has been very busy and as we speak she is on the streets of old Jaipur painting murals.

I ask him about his influences because we all know we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. “In all fairness, a lot of my influences, at least for now, tend to be a little closer to my own soil. As I grew up with Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, I started to feel the same energy in India. Begum Akhtar, for example, used to take the stage with a whiskey in hand and sing love songs and songs about desire. Even though when I was young I was influenced by Harlem and the Blues, right now I’m starting to find the same energy in our culture too, ”says Suleman.

Suleman is not only a revolutionary figure in the wider artist community in India, but also more particularly in the queer community for his absolute ability to cut bullshit and talk about issues without fear of repercussions. When I tell people on Instagram that I did an interview with Suleman, I become the recipient of many messages from young queer people who have gained a lot of strength from her. She’s not only a Burning Man phenomenon, but she’s also managed to dominate the pitch.

“Anyone who lives on the fringes of society – whether women or gay men – is always at the forefront of the revolution because they do not inherit the kind of privileges that others have. So, of course, the revolution – even if it is very romantic – is also sometimes a thing without choice. Sometimes people have no choice but to resist, ”she said.

I ask her about the style and she tells me about Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Frida Kahlo, Amrita Sher-Gil and Begum Akhtar and how what takes the lives of these geniuses is that rebellions start in our bodies. She believes that as an artist her body is the first canvas.

Now, having heard everything Suleman has to say and reassured by his candor, I ask him a question that I have been dying to ask him ever since I learned of the interview. This is a question I know, for a fact many public figures would dodge, but Suleman does not.

“A lot of times we see brands co-opting queer stories, especially during Pride Month. Often times, they don’t do anything legible enough to effect change. Even in the last few fashion weeks that we’ve seen, there will be a token “plus size” model, ”I say and can feel Suleman nod on the phone. She understands, I think to myself.

“How can we bring real inclusiveness to the Indian fashion scene?” I ask.

“I think that’s a brilliant question and I’m also very grateful that you ask this question because right now I’m working with a group of queer men and I’m basically painting one of the first queer murals in the India. I sometimes catch myself thinking of how United Colors of Benetton suddenly has queer models or Forever 21 has a “ feminist ” t-shirt and I find myself a little bored because a lot of brands and companies that don’t. not having the best ethical basis may end up co-opting a movement rooted in marginalization, in the end. Around Women’s Day I’m invited to lecture and the rest of the year nobody cares, ”she said.

“I think it’s important for queer people to be represented in public spaces and in advertisements because the more these communities become visible, the more the narrative changes. However, I also think there has to be a connection that is not just about storytelling and portrayal, but also has to shift towards real change in politics and behavior. Those in power must also advocate for real change and make a difference for communities so that it is not just naam ke vaasteSuleman adds.

When it comes to her art, Suleman is happy to say that she is inspired by people who have had the courage to be themselves in the past. There is a long line of people who inspired Shilo Shiv Suleman and she says she “stands on the shoulders of giants”.

Suleman never has and never will accept that she is a trailblazer, but that, I believe, is just her modesty and ability to look beyond herself. She is real, raw and, yes, sometimes worryingly honest. But only because we’re not used to public figures speaking out the way she does.

And hoping it never stops.

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